Coach John Wooden is one of the most widely respected and admired coaches in history. Over a 27-year tenure at UCLA, Coach Wooden led his basketball teams to 10 national championships in 12 years (including seven in a row), a record 88-game winning streak, and six National Coach of the Year Awards. Even more impressive, no one else has won more than two National Championships in a row in the 40 years since Wooden retired from coaching.
Wooden is famous for his simple but inspiring messages, which had applications in both basketball and in life. Many are compiled in the book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, and three are summarized below.
Small steps, consistently over time, yield big results.
Wooden is famous for taking time out of one of the first practices of the season to instruct his players on something shockingly basic: how to properly put on their socks and shoes. Wooden's teams were not successful because they knew how to tie their shoes, but this small step was a building block for so much more. How? Because a sock with wrinkles can cause blisters, and blisters inhibit a player's ability to change direction and pace, which can ruin a game or practice. By perfecting the basics and striving to be a little bit better each day, "Eventually big things occur. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made."
Focus on what you can control.
Learn what you can from your mistakes and then put them behind you; you can't change the past. Similarly, don't dwell on future unknowns. Instead, focus on what you can control in the present, namely your own preparedness.
One of the things that distinguished Wooden was his lack of concern for what his opponents were doing. He rarely scouted other teams, instead choosing to focus his attention on ensuring that his players were prepared to be the best they could be, saying, "We had no control over the many possible variations an opponent might use in a game. We did have control, total control, over preparing to execute our game. To me, it made more sense to concentrate on that." He stressed that success is not winning, necessarily, but playing to the best of your ability, regardless of the outcome.
Wooden emphasized the importance of patience as "a virtue in preparing for any task of significance. It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it. Excellence requires patience. Most of all, success requires patience."
Not making the starting lineup may be disappointing, but a coach can only start five players. Wooden recalls several players who didn't get much playing time, but patiently waited for their time to come, devoting their time and energy to making themselves better players at every single practice rather than complaining. When given the opportunity to play, they were prepared, and many went on to great things, including starting positions and playing professionally.
Photo Credit: LA Times.
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